The number of people receiving the Pandemic Unemployment Payment has fallen to just over 363,000 - a decrease of almost 13,500 over the last seven days.

The drop in claims reflects the ongoing reopening of the economy , with almost 26,000 people closing their PUP accounts last week to return to work .

The sectors with the largest numbers of people returning to work were Other Sectors, including hairdressing and beauty salons which saw almost 9,000 close their claims.

Over 4,700 workers in the Wholesale and Retail sector closed their claims, and Construction saw a reduction of over 3,000.

In addition to the 363,000 receiving the PUP, a further 178,000 people were recorded on the Live Register at the end of April.

This week's PUP payments will cost €107 million.

The Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys welcomed the decrease in claims, but noted that the real reduction triggered by the reopening of sectors like retail may not emerge for some weeks, as the PUP is paid weekly in arrears.

"However, all the indications are that people are returning ot work in large numbers with almost 26,000 closing their PUP in the last week."

She also reminded employers they may be able to avail of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme to assist with payroll costs, and act as an "effective bridge back to employment for people who were on the PUP."

She noted that as eligibility for the EWSS is based on employer turnover, most employers closed due to the pandemic would qualify.

The Department noted concerns expressed in recent days regarding employers facing difficulties in re-hiring staff.

It said there was clear evidence that the vast majority of people want to, and will, take up employment once it is available to them.

However, it reiterated advice to employers experiencing hiring or re-hiring difficulties to contact it to follow up on the cases concerned.

Ms Humphreys told RTÉ that in total, 860,000 people had availed of the PUP since it was launched in March 2020. Since then, there have been 3000 complaints about people unavailable for work, most of which arose last year in relation to lack of childcare.

The Department confirmed that 17 employers contacted it last week complaining of recruitment difficulties, with 18 further employers doing so the previous week.

Minister Humphreys also repeated that the PUP scheme will remain open at its current rates of payment until 30th June - with the government announcing its future plans in early June.

"In doing so, we will take into account the trajectory of the virus, progress on the vaccine roll-out, progress in terms of people returning to work and of course the continued impact of the pandemic on the economy over the period ahead."